Atmosphere in Our Home: Going Outdoors

“Never be within doors when you can rightly be without. Besides, the gain of an hour or two in the open air, there is this to be considered: meals taken al fresco are usually joyous… All the time, too, the children are storing up memories of a happy childhood. Fifty years hence they will see the shadows of the boughs making patterns on the white tablecloth; and sunshine, children’s laughter, hum of bees, and scent of flowers are being bottled up for after refreshment.” -Charlotte Mason, Vol. 2, p. 43

Our home extends outdoors each time we look out a window or step out our door and so the atmosphere of outdoor spaces is worth considering.  This is an area that can feel somewhat daunting, but needn’t be so.

Consider first, what words you would like to use to describe your outdoor space.  Would you like a calm, restful space to read and wander?  An adventurous space for romping, muddy play, and climbing trees?  A natural wonderland alive with bees, butterflies, grasshoppers, and pond life?

Next, think about the your outdoor spaces – do you have a few window boxes or a small deck space or acreage?  Is is usually hot and dry? Humid and temperate? Cool, with hard freezes?  Unlike our indoor spaces, where you can fill a room with a seashell motif even if you live nowhere near the coast, the outdoors demand our obedience to the realities of our climate.  Learn a bit about what is native to your area, so it is easier to grow and you are more likely to have success in your endeavors.

Then, start with something small and delightful.  Do you want birds singing at the window?

Image result for mary poppins birds
This is pretty much why I got bird feeders.

Then get some feeders and start welcoming in some native bird species.  I’ve had great luck with finches, chickadees, cardinals, and hummingbirds!  What lives near you?

Do you want a place to gather for meals out of doors?  It can be as simple as finding a favorite quilt to use for afternoon snacks in the yard or as elaborate as finding just the right table and chairs for your deck space. Do what makes sense for your family and budget, but make sure you find it a delight to spend time there.

Is having a cozy spot to knit, have a glass of wine, or tell stories around a fire your first priority for your outdoor space?  It can be as easy as digging a hole and surrounding it with rocks, or as complicated as going to the local hardware store and finding just the right thing.  Just make sure to not to start fires near dry grasses or too close to home!

What about the winter time?  Many of us assume we should be outside less in winter because it is colder, but in some areas of the country it is the most beautiful time of the year.  In areas with snowstorms, it might be fun to arrange for building a mountain of snow in the yard somewhere as a personal sledding hill.  Better yet, do it in the front yard and entice the neighbor kids out of their homes!  Putting out suet bricks for cold weather birds is also a lovely way to have a flash of red (cardinals) amongst the white scenery.  Or, maybe maple sugaring is up your alley?  I’ve even had my eye on the idea of a backyard ice rink… but it isn’t cold enough where I live.

The idea of spreading the atmosphere of your home outdoors can be as simple as washing your windows to see the outdoors better, or as complicated as calling a landscape architect to make a master plan for your property.  I encourage you to do something this fall that will make next spring more pleasant for your space and that will cause you to desire to step outdoors more often.

Mother Culture: Ten Minutes

“Mother must have time to herself. And we must not say ‘I cannot.’ Can any of us say till we have tried, not for one week, but for one whole year, day after day, that we ‘cannot’ get one half-hour out of the twenty-four for ‘Mother Culture?’–one half-hour in which we can read, think, or ‘remember.'” Parents’ Review, Vol. 2, No. 2

I’m going to make this quick today in order to give you a bit more time to think about spending ten minutes today reading, creating, or in prayer.  Right now, if you are a bullet journal or Happy Planner or whatever other type of planning system type of gal, write down a plan for when you can spend those ten minutes alone and what you will do.  That plan may not work out, but knowing it is there in the plan means that if you find ten minutes in the carpool line or the parking lot after grocery shopping or wherever else, you’ll have it front of mind to use those minutes for some Mother Culture time.

Once the time is allotted into your planning system, prepare the things you need.  Get your book uploaded into your Kindle or throw your book into your purse.  Get your knitting stuff together now, and make sure your pattern is printed.  Locate a rosary or a journal or your gardening gloves now, so when that ten minutes comes around, you’re ready to spend it well.

Lastly, do it.  When you’re tempted to check your email instead or facebook or Instagram… don’t.  Put your phone down instead.  If the planned time comes and the baby is crying, that’s ok.  Perhaps your ten minutes will come later than expected and you’ll be more tired than expected and all you’ll want to do is lay down on the couch and zone out.  Fight the urge and just take ten minutes to dedicate to prayer or your gratitude journal if reading a book is too much.  Or, just read that book anyway and maybe you’ll feel more revived afterward.

When you’ve taken your ten minutes, assess if that time worked well or if perhaps it could be at a different time of day.  Either way, plan to do it again tomorrow.  Look at your day and pencil it in.  Then, schedule it in for each day.  Make this your new habit for one month and then see how it is working for you.  Perhaps then you’ll be ready to add in another ten minutes? Or ten for prayer and ten for reading and ten for creativity?  Let’s not get ahead of ourselves… start with ten today!

Mother Culture: A Change of Pace

“‘Oh, mother, may we go blackberrying this afternoon, instead of lessons?’ The masterly and the abject ‘yes’ are quite different notes. The first makes the holiday doubly a delight; the second produces a restless desire to gain some other easy victory.” -Charlotte Mason, Vol. 3, p. 29

We’ve all been there – the kids are starting the day full of energy and you just don’t feel up to the challenge. Perhaps there is some pressing issue that is a stressor, or you are feeling woefully behind, or you just moved to a new town and have so many boxes surrounding you and no wifi or coffee maker… Maybe that last one is just me. When Mother Culture time alone isn’t an option, but white knuckling it through the day seems like a recipe for frustration, it’s good to know yourself well enough to know when to take a break. Sometimes a change of pace is just what you need and sometimes it is what your kids need. Don’t despairingly give in to your feelings as if the day is a failure – quite the opposite! Make the day enriching to your soul and enjoy it. Come back refreshed and ready to take on the challenges ahead. The key is to know what refreshes you that you can do with children in tow and what exhausts you, and to choose appropriately. 

Often, this is as simple as bringing our school work to the park. When you find just that right park for your family, it gives you to ability to let the little ones burn energy, gives the big kids some time to hang from monkey bars while they narrate, and a picnic bench for the laptop users who can get their math done with a warm breeze in their hair. It can be lovely. Often, we don’t get every single thing done. We don’t want to bring everything for the science experiment or all the art supplies for that painting assignment. Fine. That’s part of the change of pace and it is ok every once in a while. 

Other times, you may find that your go-to place is something else. A garden of some sort or a museum that your whole family loves. Today, for us, it was homeschool day at Carillon Historical Park. Our family loves history and a day filled with making corn brooms, seeing old trains, and hearing the story of Orville and Wilbur Wright was just what we needed to feel more at home in our new locale. It also fed my own sense of awe at how daily life has changed since Ohio was the wild west of our young nation. The kids loves seeing the blacksmith create iron hooks for the barn, and truthfully, so did I.  I came home a better mom than I was when we left the house.

When the weather is crummy, have an indoor location that suits your family.  During long, hot summers some theatres offer older family movies for cheap or free during the morning hours. In the doldrums of January and February, a science museum or local  history spot might be a great place to explore.  The key is still what refreshes YOU and is also enjoyable for most of your family (because no one is refreshed by listening to complaints).  In seasons with infants and toddlers, that will look different than seasons with school-aged and teenage kids, so assess what season you’re in and have some ideas lined up for when you need them. 


Lastly, it isn’t really Mother Culture if you feel like you’re just escaping your house to then feel frustrated and irritated elsewhere. Don’t just assume changing location will do the trick on frustrating days. Perhaps staying home and changing the pace is more effective for you – announce a baking day or a family bike ride or whatever it is that would reinvigorate your spirit and then truly aim to enjoy yourself and your family.  The kids will remember the days mom laughed and played! It will shape their ideas about what it means to be a mom and it will shape their relationship with you. Go out (or stay home!) and have a bit of fun!

SPACES TO THINK NO. 6

Habit a Delight in itself.

…the forming of habits in the children is no laborious task, for the reward goes hand in hand with the labour; so much so, that it is like the laying out of a penny with the certainty of the immediate return of a pound. For a habit is a delight in itself; poor human nature is conscious of the ease that it is to repeat the doing of anything without effort; and, therefore, the formation of a habit, the gradually lessening sense of effort in a given act, is pleasurable. This is one of the rocks that mothers sometimes split upon: they lose sight of the fact that a habit, even a good habit, becomes a real pleasure; and when the child has really formed the habit of doing a certain thing, his mother imagines that the effort is as great to him as at first, that it is virtue in him to go on making this effort, and that he deserves, by way of reward, a little relaxation––she will let him break through the new habit a few times, and then go on again. But it is not going on; it is beginning again, and beginning in the face of obstacles. The ‘little relaxation’ she allowed her child meant the forming of another contrary habit, which must be overcome before the child gets back to where he was before.” Volume 1 page 121.

Fruit from our Farm Pick-up, Amazon Fresh and Wegmans in a big mess.
Tidied into bowls
Keeping clean, empty counters has been a new habit for me for the last year or so. It brings me peace and happiness (and fortitude to prepare yet another meal!)
Putting away small appliances and dishes washed-by-hand takes only an extra moment or so.

What are some of the good habits you have in your life? How do they bring you delight and pleasure, even in the very doing of them, not just in their result?

Now that the new school year has started, with fresh eyes think through one habit you most need to develop? What bumps in your day could be helped by a good habit put in its place?

What is the contrary habit to your good habit that you need to overcome? What reward do you get from your contrary habit that you need to let go of to really establish your new habit?

What reward will you get from your new good habit? Think through the delights that your habit holds, in doing them and in the result.

What “penny” will you need to give to create your new habit and what will be the “pound” (dollar) you will receive in return?

This summer I read The Power of Habit and found much that confirmed Mason’s theories on the power of habit in our lives. It was inspiring and worth checking out of the library. I hope to blog more about it when my Charlotte Mason reading group gets to the habit section in Volume 1.

 

 

 

This post is part of our Friday series: “Spaces to Think” You can read the others here.

 

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Atmosphere in our Home: Sounds, Smells, and Textures

When we discuss mother culture, it seems we focus on our minds and souls, but I’m finding that here, when we discuss the home, I am appealing to your physical senses.  In our homes, whether we do so with intention or haphazardly, we are in the midst of using all of our senses.  From the type of flooring that your feet touch first thing in the morning, to the smell of dinner cooking in the oven, the music you play, the breeze coming in the open window, to the sound of the birds at the feeder outside – each of these has a small, but steady effect on your day and your daily satisfaction.  Now, this is far from saying that we need picture perfect homes in order to be satisfied!  Quite the contrary – your home doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.  (I love that book.  Freeing to the spirit of any perfectionist!)

“[Smell] might be the means of giving Mansoul a great deal of pleasure, because there are many faint, delightful odours in the world, like the odour of a box-hedge, of lime-trees in flower, of bog-myrtle, which he might carry, and thus add to the pleasure of life..” – Charlotte Mason, Vol. 4, p. 26

Smells, delightful or disgusting, and everything in between give our home a certain atmosphere.  So often, a certain smell will bring on a surge of memory in a person and we are transported back to a moment back in time.  Give a moment this week to what smells you would like associated with your home – it could be as simple as baking each Saturday afternoon, winter stews that cook all afternoon, dried lavender kept in the linen closet or planted outside a window, hiking in the pine forest, the list goes on and on… Think about how you can use natural and delightful smells in your home to enhance the surroundings.

“Those persons whose senses are the most keen and delicate are the most alive and get most interest out of life; so it is worth while to practise our senses; to shut our eyes, for example, and learn the feel of different sorts of material, different sorts of wood, metal, leaves of trees, different sorts of hair and fur––in fact, whatever one comes across.” – Charlotte Mason, Vol. 4, p. 27

Textures too are so key, yet so often so taken for granted.  In Charlotte’s time, synthetic fibers were not yet invented, and so she waxes poetic about the beauty of wool and its delightful properties as well as the uses of cotton and flax.  While I’m sure she wouldn’t begrudge us a light and effective raincoat rather than a wool one for our drizzly nature walks, it did make me think a bit more about the clothing and fabrics that I use in my home.  There is little more delightful than cool cotton sheets in summertime, or brushed cotton flannel ones for those long winter nights!  The feeling of linen breezing over the skin in hot weather makes it clear why it is so popular in equatorial countries, and the delight of a warm, woolen sweater is unsurpassed when out in cool weather.  Textures then, of course, go beyond the fabrics that touch our skin. Consider textures in your food – while white breads are easy to pick up on the store shelf, I would encourage you to find a bakery (or attempt one yourself!) that offers a delightful bread with seeds and grains in a chewy, flavorful, crusty loaf.  It needs no sugary topping or layers of filling – that bread is simply perfect with a smear of butter and cup of tea.  Extend this line of thought to your other meals – which meal is the one you are most likely to reach for a processed food rather than the more natural one out of ease or convenience?  Perhaps this is a place to partner with an older child and teach them how to help you and how to experience the textures of simple, but wholesome food preparation.

“Then, as you listen more, you hear more. The chirp of the grasshoppers becomes so noisy that you wonder you can hear yourself speak for it; then the bees have it all to themselves in your hearing; then you hear the hum or the trumpet of smaller insects, and perhaps the tinkle and gurgle of a stream. The quiet place is full of many sounds, and you ask yourself how you could have been there without hearing them. That just shows you how Hearing may sleep at his post. Keep him awake and alive; make him try to hear and know some new sound every day without any help from sight. It is rather a good plan to listen with shut eyes.” – Charlotte Mason, Vol. 4, p. 30

Lastly, let’s take a minute to think about the sounds of your home.  Perhaps it is best to take a minute to sit and simply listen to what the actual sounds are, and then assess which we like and which we could do without.  I personally wish I were better at identifying birds by ear, so I attempt to lure them close to my windows with multiple bird feeders and to have open windows whenever I can.  I also will say that the loud purring of my cat is a sound I dearly love and makes a family read aloud or movie night that much more cozy.  On the flip side, I dislike my phone alarms and so when I try to keep to fifteen minute lessons, I found it difficult to keep time while managing a 1- and 3-year-old and trying to watch the clock.  I found silent sand timers to be our solution.  They are beautiful and don’t add to the unpleasant noises in our home.  For this same reason, I don’t keep beeping, honking, or loud toys in our home.  I would simply go crazy and I am assuming that when my children are adults they will not miss that honking car, but will appreciate a sane mother.  I am working on Charlotte’s advice to keep my skill at listening “awake and alive” when we head into nature as well.  All too often, there is talking going on, but I am trying to encounter and enjoy the silence of the hikers so we can hear the concerto of the birds, trees, streams, and insects.  What sounds do you love or could do without?

Mother Culture: Spiritual Life

“Education is part and parcel of religion and every enthusiastic teacher knows that he is obeying the precept, ‘feed my lambs’––feed with all those things which are good and wholesome for the spirit of a man; and, before all and including all, with the knowledge of God.” – Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6, pg. 246

We’ve already started talking about how we must take care of not only the physical parts of ourselves that we can see, but also those parts of ourselves that, while invisible, are of greater importance than our physical selves – our minds and our souls.  We talked about the importance of wide reading to feed our minds on their proper diet of knowledge.  Now let’s talk about feeding our souls on the knowledge of God.

I’m going to write this article based on the assumption that most of the people reading this come from some variety of a Christian faith, as I do. Charlotte herself was a devout Christian and the crux of her method was that all knowledge comes from the Holy Spirit.

“But we hold that all education is divine, that every good gift of knowledge and insight comes from above, that the Lord the Holy Spirit is the supreme educator of mankind, and that the culmination of all education is that personal knowledge of and intimacy with God in which our being finds its fullest perfection.” – Charlotte Mason, Vol. 3, p. 95

So how do we apply this as mothers and teachers, grandmothers and aunts, sisters and cousins?  We realize that the Holy Spirit is consistently reaching out to us and trying to give us this gift of knowledge, but we must respond to Him in kind.  Through prayer and reading of the bible, we show our openness to receiving those gifts the Holy Spirit wants to generously bestow.

When you take this time to pray, to contemplate God’s Word, and to find time to quiet your thoughts and listen, you are setting an example to every soul in your household.  When I took the vows of marriage, I agreed to the idea that my vocation as wife was predominantly to help my husband get to heaven. His vow meant he accepted the job of helping me to get to heaven (he has the much harder job!) and together, each child we bring into the world is one we will raise with the goal of heaven for that soul.  Taking time to pray for each person in your home is fulfilling that role of wife and mother and letting your husband and children see you or simply knowing that mom has time in the day set aside for prayer creates an atmosphere where prayer is valued.  Herein lies a beautiful paradox – that time “for yourself” benefits every soul around you!

Further, to not only read, but to study and understand the Bible key to your spiritual life.  As Saint Jerome said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”  He should know, he translated the entire bible into Latin from the original Greek and Hebrew.  No matter what your denomination or non-denomination, there is certainly resources out there for you both online and in your local church. If you don’t have a group, start one.  If you don’t feel you need a group, perhaps a good study bible would be right up your alley or a copy of your catechism.  Find a way to connect to the Lord through a deep study of His Word and a whole new world will open up for you and all those around you.

I would also suggest that as a family, you look at what it means to keep Holy the Sabbath day.  We mothers too often can make excuse after excuse as to why we remain busy all week long and cannot find time to read, take a walk, or enjoy quiet time.  On Sundays, we are actually commanded to do so.  It’s one of the ten.  Consult with your spouse as to what you discern to be appropriate ways to spend your Sunday and stick to it.  Come into your Monday ready for the week ahead and refreshed, rather than harried and exhausted.

SPACES TO THINK NO. 5

“If mothers could learn to do for themselves what they do for their children when these are overdone, we should have happier households. Let the mother go out to play! If she would only have courage to let everything go when life becomes too tense, and just take a day, or half a day, out in the fields, or with a favourite book, or in a picture gallery looking long and well at just two or three pictures, or in bed, without the children, life would go on far more happily for both children and parents.” – Charlotte Mason, Vol. 3, pg. 34

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Playing in Rome. Not a every-day kind of “Mother-Culture”!

Camille wrote on this quote in her post on Mother Culture and Creativity. If you missed it, go back and read it now!

Play is so important in all of our lives that I thought it was worth posting this quote again for our “Spaces to Think” series.

Here are some things to ponder:

What is the difference between real play and escapism?

Have you been seeking to escape your work and life or finding life-giving ways to enrich it through play and leisure?

Why is play not self-indulgent?

What do you do if you have a few extra minutes in your schedule? Is this life-giving to you?

How can you have more courage to set aside time for your “Mother-Culture”? It is often heroic, isn’t it– The lining up of babysitters or planning quiet activities for your children, so you can have the chance to “play”?

What activities does Mason mention for the mother to do when things have become too tense? How are they different from the normal recommendations for women to go shopping or to the spa? Or might even these be a good option?

Look back at your past week. Did you get enough rest? Enough Mother-Culture? Then, look ahead, and plan a pocket or two of time! We can’t hop on plane to Rome, but what can we do?

 

This post is part of our Friday series: “Spaces to Think” You can read the others here.

 

We’d love to hear your thoughts or questions about the quote below!